PETALING JAYA: Kuan Chee Heng understands the trials and tribulations of being poor.
“That’s why I now dedicate my life to helping those facing the same predicament,” said the burly 54-year-old founder of Community Policing Malaysia (COPs), who is one of the 10 winners of the Star Golden Hearts Award this year.
Since last year, Kuan and his team at COPs have set up initiatives such as the 10-sen flea market, 10-sen ambulance service, 10-sen taxi, 10-sen library and RM1 transit homes for the needy.
Ten sen is the smallest sum to charge customers while still allowing them to maintain their dignity, he said.
The first of the 10-sen projects was the market which COPs now holds every month at the low-cost flats in Bukit Jalil.
The man dubbed “Hero Malaya” by netizens recalled growing up with 10 siblings in a rumah kongsi in a rubber estate, and seeing his mother juggle several jobs to feed their big family. His late mother had the biggest influence on him.
“She was a tremendous woman,” he said.
“She was a rubber tapper and would wake up very early to prepare food for us before heading off to work at the plantation.
“She was bullied by the estate supervisor who would pay her very little despite her best efforts. But she kept on working. She would clean other people’s houses, do laundry for students, and clean toilets just so she could take care of us and my father, a tuberculosis patient.”
The children also worked hard to help her. Kuan washed toilets for money.
But despite their hardships, Kuan said, his family was always happy.
Looking back, Kuan added, “It was a good thing that we went through all that hardship. I was physically stronger than my peers because I worked in the rubber estates.
“I’ve been there. I know what a hard life is and I have been looked down upon by people because of my social status.”
Kuan is able to fund COPs’ initiatives with assistance from businessmen such as Datuk Paul Lim, who donated RM80,000 to renovate the transit homes earlier this year.
He said most of the anonymous donors who reached out to him wanted to do charity, but could not find a suitable platform to disperse the funds.
“These donors choose to remain anonymous. They want to do charity, but just don’t know how. I see myself as the bridge that connects charitable people to those needing help,” he said.
Kuan also receives a lot of help from his 258,000 followers on Facebook, who donate funds or items such as food or clothing to help ease the plight of individuals highlighted on his page.
But fame on social media has also brought critics.
Kuan has received his fair share of criticism from netizens questioning his methods of crowdfunding, and calling him an “attention-seeker” or “beggar” for taking his cause to social media.
The ex-policeman, however, pays no heed to the negative comments.
“The reason why the deeds were broadcast on Facebook is for transparency. Donors need to know where their money is going to, so they need not worry.
“There’s nothing wrong with posting on social media for help. In fact, I agree with my critics. The more famous I am, the better my opportunities to assist others.
“When people support me, they don’t just give me money. They give me solutions to problems. I have people who support me, so why should I care about those who don’t?” he said.
For Kuan, it is more important to leave a legacy that not only his three children, but Malaysians in general, could be proud of.
“Malaysia cannot progress if her people are self-centred. We will never start if we don’t take the first step.”
Kuan is happy that others have copied his 10-sen initiatives.
“Now one Yang Berhormat is doing the 10-sen ambulance service in Sabak Bernam.
“In Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, they have their own 10-sen initiatives. In Johor, they have a 10-sen taxi.
“We want more people to do the same,” he said.
Despite tirelessly assisting others every day, Kuan said there are times he still feels as though he could have done more to help.
“I do have regrets. There are cases in which I wish I could have done more.
“That’s why when I say I will help someone, I will do it to the best of my ability. I don’t want to regret not giving them as much as I can,” he said.
Kuan thanked The Star for his Golden Hearts Award.
“I’ve seen the beauty of charity, so whether or not I win is not important,” he added.
“Getting Malaysians together is more important for me.
“After all, I would not have gotten the initiatives running without support from others.”